The 4th Sunday of Advent is also the Vigil of Christmas -- two separate Mass obligations. Here’s how to plan your liturgical celebrations.
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If your calendar is as crowded as mine, you may just be noticing that Advent is shorter than usual this year. It’s still four Sundays, but because December 25 is a Monday, there are only 22 days of the preparatory season.
There’s another thing about this shortened schedule that’s suddenly dawning on everyone. Sunday, December 24 is not only the Fourth Sunday of Advent, but also Christmas Eve!
Both the Advent Sunday and the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord carry the obligation to assist at Mass. And though there are occasions when the obligation is waived for a holy day that falls so close to a Sunday – January 1, 2018, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is one example, as New Year’s Day will also fall on a Monday – Christmas is not one of those occasions. Christmas (literally, “Christ Mass”) is one of our greatest reasons for giving thanks, a Eucharist that is less an obligation than a joy.
So the weekend of IV Advent/Christmas means twice the Mass. No combining, either – the two days are completely different in tone and focus, with different readings, prayers, and hymns.
We have options
Fortunately, because the Church celebrates vigils, there are several options for fulfilling this double obligation. Depending on your parish’s schedule and your own, you can attend a Saturday evening Vigil Mass or a Sunday morning Mass to celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent. (Parishes that normally schedule Sunday evening Masses will not do so for Advent, because it will already be Christmas Eve by the liturgical calendar.)
Then you may choose to attend a Christmas Eve Vigil Mass on Sunday (most parishes schedule a late afternoon family Eucharist, sometimes with a children’s pageant, as well as a late-evening “Midnight” Mass) or a morning Mass on Monday, Christmas Day to celebrate the Nativity. (Most parishes do not schedule evening Masses on Christmas Day.)
Make plans now
As you can see, it will take a little extra planning this year. Start now by checking the Mass schedules for your parish, or for the parish you will be attending if you are traveling to visit family for the holiday.
And while you’re planning, spare a thought for your parish priests and deacons, lectors and ministers of Holy Communion and servers, cantors and choirs and musicians. They’ll be running the liturgical equivalent of a 3-day marathon. And then there are the folks responsible for “striking the set” – taking down the Advent hangings and decorations – and “loading in” the splendors of Christmas, all in a few short hours! Be sure to convey your thanks along with your Christmas greetings.
Yes, it’s two Mass obligations this year. But that’s really a way to double the celebration, reminding ourselves that we live outside the boundaries of the calendar, where Christ has come, is present, and will come again.